Fifteen Villanovans Win Prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Grants

This marks the largest single-year number of Fulbright awardees in Villanova University’s history

Villanova University’s 2018-19 Fulbright U.S. Student Grant Recipients—
Villanova University’s 2018-19 Fulbright U.S. Student Grant Recipients—Top Row (L-R): Brynn Sundberg, Nicholas Azulay, Aida Mohajeri, Kaitlyn Irwin, Gabriel Lopez, Chayla Sherrod, Brian King. Bottom Row (L-R): Evelyn Semenov, Hee Jae (Ana) Song, Milan Smoak-Booker, Lily Haddad, Lucille Finnegan, Laura Spence, Sabrina Verleysen. Not Pictured: Mackenzie Niness.

VILLANOVA, Pa. – The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs recently announced the results of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for grants taking place in 2018-2019, with 30 current Villanova University students and alumni recognized by the program. Fifteen Villanova students and alumni won the prestigious award, with an additional eight named alternates and seven earning recognition as semi-finalists. Villanova has had at least one student selected for the coveted award each year since 1994, and has been listed among the nation’s top producers of Fulbright Students for the last 10 years. This year marks the largest single-year number of Fulbright awards in the University’s history.

“Villanova’s recent success in the Fulbright program is remarkable and is a tribute to our fantastic students,” said University Provost Patrick G. Maggitti, PhD. “It demonstrates the tremendous support our students receive from faculty and staff while on campus, and highlights our students’ desire to take the knowledge and competencies they developed at Villanova and share those talents with the global community. Congratulations to all of our awardees, alternates and semifinalists.”

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program, offering students grants to conduct research, study, and teach abroad. Top-producing institutions are highlighted annually in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Fulbright recipients meet, work with, and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences. The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think. Visit the Fulbright Program website to learn more.

The Fulbright competition at Villanova is open to all current students and alumni, and is administered by Villanova’s Center for Research and Fellowships (CRF) within the Office of the Provost. Students and alumni create an application for the fellowship program under the direction of the CRF team. The rise in awards won by Villanova applicants this year corresponds to the increasing efforts by CRF to provide both one-on-one consultations and group support for students throughout the application process, including conceptualization of projects, writing and revising proposals, and interview preparation and practice.

“This has been an incredible year, with Villanovans as Finalists for both the Rhodes and Truman Scholarships, record numbers of Goldwater Scholarship and National Science Foundation Fellowship winners, and now a record number of Fulbright winners,” said Dr. Michael T. Westrate, Director of CRF. “Such formal recognition is a testament to Villanova’s exceptional students, our world-class academics and research, and our outstanding faculty and staff mentors. These Villanovans have excelled—both inside the classroom and beyond it. They have already made a positive impact by dedicating countless hours to service and research. As Fulbright winners, they will have even more impact and become leaders in the global community, joining Villanova’s long history of ‘Fulbrighters’ who are using their gifts to serve others.”

Villanova students and alumni interested in applying for external awards, including the Fulbright, should visit the CRF website for more information.

The 15 Villanovans awarded Fulbright U.S. Student Grants are:

  • Nicholas Azulay (’18 CLAS), of Millburn, N.J., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and minors in Peace & Justice and English. A member of Villanova Pastoral Musicians Executive Board, Azulay also served on the board of the College Democrats, as a local program host of the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Fall Festival, and as a Cinematographer & Editor at Villanova Television. Azulay spent summer 2017 studying in the Czech Republic, where he will return as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Upon completion of his Fulbright year, he intends to pursue a career in the field of international development.
  • Lucille Finnegan (’18 VSB), of Washington, N.J., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Economics and a minor in English. A Presidential Scholar, Finnegan has served as a volunteer tutor in Philadelphia schools, performed outreach among her peers for Villanovans Against Sweatshops, and edited Polis, Villanova’s Literary Magazine. Finnegan spent the spring semester of her first year studying in London. As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, she will teach English in secondary schools in South Korea. Upon completion of her Fulbright year, Finnegan intends to pursue a career in education.
  • Lily Haddad (’18 CLAS), of Boyertown, Pa., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Arab & Islamic Studies, with a minor in Arabic Language & Culture. She has served as a harpist and historian for the Villanova Pastoral Musicians, worked as a fundraiser for Catholic Relief Services, and tutored Palestinian refugees. Haddad spent summer 2016 in Morocco, where she studied and interned with a NGO. She will use her Fulbright Research award to return to Morocco to complete a project titled, “Non-Formal Education and Combatting School Attrition in Morocco.”
  • Kaitlyn Irwin (’18 CLAS), of Hillsborough, N.J., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Spanish Language & Literature, with a minor in Education. Irwin has been involved in a variety of different service opportunities at Villanova. She is also the Community Relations Chair of Villanova's Relay Life, a summer camp counselor, and a member of both Alpha Gamma Delta and Alpha Epsilon Delta. Irwin spent the fall of her junior year in Cádiz, Spain. She will return to Spain as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the La Rioja region. Following the completion of her Fulbright year, Irwin will pursue a career in pediatric occupational therapy.
  • Brian King (’18 CLAS), of Edison, N.J., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Theology. He has served Villanova’s Student Government Association in several leadership roles, welcomed visitors to campus through the Blue Key Society, and mentored students at several organizations in the area. King also has experience in fundraising and as a martial arts instructor. He will use his Fulbright award to teach English in India. Upon his return to the United States, King will pursue a career in education.
  • Gabriel Lopez (’18 COE), of San Diego, Calif., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and a Peace & Justice minor. Lopez, a member of Tau Beta Pi, is a DJ with WXVU Villanova Radio who has participated in service trips to South Carolina and Costa Rica. He will use his Fulbright research grant to pursue a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Solar Energy at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland. Lopez will pursue a career in renewable energy focused on implementing sustainable infrastructure in Central and South America.
  • Aida Mohajeri (’17 CLAS), of Paoli, Pa., graduated in December 2016 with a degree in Arab & Islamic Studies and Political Science, as well as Arabic Language and Culture, Peace & Justice, and Honors minors. A 2017 recipient of the Villanova University Student Leadership Award, Mohajeri served as Director of Special Events and Assistant Track Coach for the Special Olympics Committee. She will use her Fulbright award to research the implementation of laws for students with different abilities in the United Arab Emirates. Mohajeri will pursue graduate study in Middle Eastern Policy and International Education—with a focus on Special Education—upon her return to the U.S.
  • Mackenzie Niness (’18 CLAS), of Downingtown, Pa., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Criminology. She has volunteered as an educator and advocate at two prisons in the greater Philadelphia area. Niness, a member of Villanova’s varsity Swimming and Diving team, received recognition from the Big East Conference as an Academic All-Star in 2016 and 2017. A 2016 participant in the Fulbright U.S.-U.K. Summer Institute at the University of Bristol, Niness will spend a year in the Netherlands as an English Teaching Assistant. Upon return to the U.S., she will pursue a career in prison education reform.
  • Evelyn Semenov (’18 CLAS), of Southborough, Mass., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Cultural Studies, with a Global Health minor. She is a member of Alpha Epsilon Delta who has served as a Special Olympics Medical Volunteer. Semenov has also served in several volunteer medical positions with groups in the Philadelphia area. She will spend her Fulbright year as an English Teaching Assistant in Malaysia. Upon her return to the U.S., Semenov will pursue a medical degree and a Master’s degree in Public Health.
  • Chayla Sherrod (’18 CLAS), of Bridgeport, Conn., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in Political Science. Sherrod has represented Villanova at the Forum of Executive Women and as a Blue Key Society Campus Tour Guide. She served as President of Villanova’s Pre-Law Black Student Association and as a member of the CLAS Academic Reform Committee. Sherrod will use her Fulbright Research award to Namibia to conduct a project titled “Successfully Implementing Community-Based Natural Resource Management in Namibia.” She will enroll in law school upon her return to the U.S., after which she will pursue a career in environmental advocacy.
  • Milan Smoak-Booker (’18 CLAS), of Washington, D.C., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and a minor in Sociology. Smoak-Booker has completed several service and leadership assignments during her undergraduate education, including the MLK Day of Service Committee, the St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service, Villanova Sexual Violence Awareness Club, and Alpha Kappa Alpha. She will use her Fulbright award to teach English in South Korea. Upon completion of her Fulbright year, Smoak-Booker intends to pursue a career in education policy.
  • Hee Jae (Ana) Song (’18 CLAS), of Oradell, N.J., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Science degree in Cognitive & Behavioral Neuroscience, with a concentration in Peace and Justice and minors in Psychology and Spanish. Song has pursued independent research within Villanova’s Biology Department throughout her undergraduate career, while also serving in leadership roles for several service opportunities on campus. Song will spend her Fulbright award year in South Korea, where she will complete a research project titled “Oral Health Care for People with Mental Health Disorders in South Korea.” Upon her return to the U.S., she will pursue a Master of Public Health degree and a degree in dental medicine.
  • Laura Spence (’18 CLAS), of McLean, Va., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Humanities and Classics, with a minor in Political Science. She is a Villanova Presidential Scholar. Spence, who has completed two marathons and serves as President of the Russell Kirk Society. She has also taught English in Almaty, Kazakhstan. She will travel to Moldova as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Spence plans to pursue a career in foreign policy.
  • Brynn Sundberg (’18 CLAS-Master’s), of West Salem, Wis., will graduate with a Master’s degree in Chemistry this spring. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Cell & Molecular Biology, with a minor in Chemistry, from University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She will travel to Amsterdam and Leiden in the Netherlands to begin her project titled “Characterizing Synthetic Organic Pigments for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage.” Upon return to the U.S., Sundberg will pursue a doctoral degree in Chemistry as part of a career in art conservation.
  • Sabrina Verleysen (’18 CLAS), of Collegeville, Pa., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication and Spanish Language & Literature. She has served as a Community Interpreter for the Villanova Law Clinic, as an Executive Board Member for the LIFT student mentorship program, and as a volunteer with both the MLK Day of Service and the St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service. Verleysen was previously selected as a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow in 2017. She will spend her Fulbright year as an English Teaching Assistant in Indonesia. Verleysen intends to pursue a career in public policy and international relations.

The 8 Villanovans recognized as Fulbright U.S. Student Alternates are:

  • Ryan Allen (’18 CLAS); Chemistry, Biochemistry, Spanish; Study-Research in Germany.
  • Agnes Cho (’18 FCON); Nursing, Honors; Study-Research in the Netherlands.
  • David Harvey (’18 COE); Civil Engineering; Study-Research in the Netherlands.
  • Kinjal Dave (’17 CLAS); Philosophy, Political Science; Study-Research in Singapore.
  • Michelle Kung (’18 CLAS); Computer Science, Spanish; English Teaching Assistantship in Macau.
  • Kathleen Selhorst (’18 CLAS); Biology; Study-Research in the United Kingdom.
  • Nkiambi Sokolo (’18 CLAS); Mathematics; English Teaching Assistantship in South Korea.
  • Matthew Zarenkiewicz (’17 CLAS); Humanities, GIS; Study-Research in Serbia.

The 7 Villanovans recognized as Fulbright U.S. Student Semi-Finalists are:

  • Anna DalCortivo (’18 CLAS), Sociology; Study-Research in Norway.
  • Tara Demmy (’18 CLAS-Master’s), Theatre; Study-Research in Indonesia.
  • Princess Garrett (’18 CLAS), Communications; Study-Research in the Philippines.
  • Christopher Munson (’18 COE), Mechanical Engineering; English Teaching Assistantship in Spain.
  • Zachary Oxford-Romeike (’18 CLAS-Master’s), Psychology; Study-Research in Germany.
  • Emily Tenuta (’17 CLAS), Philosophy, Political Science; Study-Research in Hungary.
  • Kenna Yadeta (’18 CLAS), Cognitive & Behavioral Neuroscience; Study-Research in Sweden.

About the Fulbright Program: Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 380,000 participants—chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential—with the opportunity to exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. Over 1,900 U.S. students, artists, and young professionals in more than 100 different fields of study are offered Fulbright Program grants to study, conduct research, and teach English annually in over 155 countries throughout the world. Visit the Fulbright Program website for more information.  

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit www.villanova.edu.